Saturday, 16 October 2010

Deathgate Arkanum - Stillhallen (2008) 55/100.

Back with a new album, entitled ‘Stillhallen’, Lestahn’s sole project of Deathgate Arkanum are hoping to turn around their fortunes having previously released a very mediocre debut full-length in the form of ‘Totenwerke’, an album which very rarely strayed from the stereotypes of depressive black metal. I must admit expectations weren’t at an all-time high coming into this release. I thought the debut was sterile and sub-par. It failed to integrate the programmed drums into the atmosphere, which was poor anyway, and it didn’t showcase a vast amount of ability on the part of Lestahn, seemingly a chap who has been inspired by the likes of Burzum and so on. Unfortunately, though ‘Stillhallen’ took three years to write, record and release, the problems from the debut are still very much a factor in the bands sound. The programmed drums still exist, the vocals are still overbearing and the buzzing atmospherics fail to deliver the passion and intensity that I’ve come to expect of this sub-genre.

‘Stillhallen’ is a very primitive and raw album, despite the use of light synths. The guitars, in particular, offer some very restrictive atmospherics through their constant buzzing and fuzzy structures. The guitars don’t tend to accommodate the listener but, had the riffs been in any way good, then that wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, that claustrophobic feel would have been a welcomed addition if the guitar work had been more memorable than it is - a problem which has severely hampered both albums, especially the debut. The production for this album has altered slightly, which has made the material, generally speaking, somewhat more accommodating to the listener and less rigid, but the instrumentation itself isn’t very inspiring. Each song tends to sound fairly similar, therefore they mesh into one. Aside from the occasional and subtle use of synths on songs like ‘Monochrome Grey’, the songs are very much stereotypical of the sub-genre.

The songs feel very cheap and lacking in ambition. They’re so generic and unwilling to change. Even after three years, ‘Stillhallen’ is almost exactly the same as the previous album, one which wasn’t very good to begin with. There have been some small alterations but nothing significant enough to make the album feel any more worthwhile than the previous. The subtle guitar effects on songs like ‘In Stillen Hallen’ give the atmosphere some more credibility but they’re very sparsely used, just like the synths, an addition to the album which gives it a feeling of grace, rather than rigidity. The vocals, as aforementioned, are as incomprehensible and overpowering as ever. They obscure the work of the bass, which is fairly uneventful anyway, and the synths, which do occasionally add some much needed depth to the release. The vocals are typically rasped but without much emotion. They’re powerful but don’t stimulate the mind whatsoever. In some cases, they truly do obscure some decent guitar work, as on songs like ‘An den Nebelhängen’, a song which feels strangely upbeat to begin with.

Instead of inspiring the listener to wander through their imagination and conjure up all sorts of desolate worlds for the instrumentation to project themselves over, the vocals force you to focus too much on them and considering how uninteresting they can be, you can imagine how dull this album must become after only a few minutes. In defence of Deathgate Arkanum though, this album does feel slightly more well rounded than the debut, although there still is use of unnecessary instrumentals in the form of ‘Stilles Hallen’, though this is not a Burzum tribute. In fact, it has a lot more individuality to it and the combination of catchy drums and synths is a nice change to proceedings. However, this still doesn’t obscure the fact that the instrumental passages are placed in all the wrong places. The anti-Christian themes only become apparent in these little samples that Lestahn uses since lyrics haven’t been supplied. There are some use of samples at the beginning of the album which, by the end, feel very out-of-place. Throughout the course of the album, these samples are very sparse and add little to the end product.

The prison-era Burzum worship of the entire debut felt forced, contrived and unwarranted. Thankfully, on this occasion, Lestahn has focused more on the direction of the album which, albeit still mediocre, is more acceptable though it can feel a bit all over the place at times. The guitar work has improved slightly, although areas like the drum programming still cause a few niggling problems here and there. The guitar work has become somewhat more epic, in the style of bands like Horn, as shown on songs like ‘An den Nebelhängen’ and ‘Mir ward als würd' ich leben’, though the dark atmospherics are nowhere near as melodic, entrancing or, quite simply, good. The album occasionally entertains the idea of cleaner structures, as shown on the final song, but these also feel out of their depth given how sparse they are and how late an introduction they’re given. Although these sections appear to be more thoughtful and, as a result, more creative, they have little time to impact and, as per usual, are overpowered by the vocals when they’re reintroduced. The final song even includes what sounds like a guest appearance from a female vocalist! Something which surprised and shocked me. All in all, although this sophomore does feel far more capable but is still mediocre in the grand scheme of things.

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